New Zealand – Day Fifteen/Sixteen: June 12/13, 2010 – Wellington

My last two days in Wellington were extremely relaxing and fun, though the feeling of dread of returning to North America was consuming me more and more every minute as time went on.

 Saturday we woke up late (Brandon needed the sleep) and we meandered up to his flat to drop off his stuff from the South Island. We hung out there for a bit, went back to the hotel, and then decided to go walk around Wellington so I could get some pictures and make the most out my last full day in the city.

 We ended up going out for dinner at Burrito Brothers – a Mexican restaurant that was absolutely delicious. I definitely had the best margarita in the history of ever, and I definitely am not a fan of tequila. But this was blended so perfectly that you could hardly taste it. Brandon ordered one too, but it was irritating his now extremely sore throat way too much, so I got to finish it.

 After dinner we wandered around Wellington a bit – stopped for some Ice Cream at the movie theatre and generally enjoyed our last evening together.

 Sunday we checked out of the hotel, and went up to Brandon’s flat so I could leave my stuff there as we went out for Brunch at Food Inc., a place where Brandon had wanted to go for dinner the night previous, unfortunately they were closed for a private event. Brunch was delicious, and afterwards we headed back to his flat for my last few hours in New Zealand to hang out, and make the most out of the last few hours before having to say goodbye.

 We got to the airport a bit early, so we went to Mojo for coffee. I was already weeping, but that was nothing compared to actually saying goodbye at the gate. I’ll be honest and say it was the hardest moment ever, after spending two weeks together in an incredible place and then saying bye for almost 3 full months… it sucked. After a long and very tearful goodbye (on my part) I boarded my flight to Auckland. I ended up meeting a girl who was on 2 flights with me, Dominique. It was great to have a new friend and someone to talk to, seeing as I was pretty upset.

 I made it home by 7:30pm the following day after rather uneventful flights from Wellington to Auckland, Auckland to LA and LA to Calgary.

 Overall? New Zealand was the best experience of my life, even after spending a whole month in Europe the summer before. I would go back in a heartbeat. I would suggest it to anyone – it’s magical. I fell in love with a country. The geology. The people. And even the little skitterish sheep everywhere. Not to mention, spending it with Brandon was the cherry on top to the whole experience.

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New Zealand – Day Fourteen: June 11, 2010 – Wellington

I woke up fairly early and said goodbye to Brandon so that he could go and study for his final only a few short hours later. He had started to get sick in Christchurch the day before, and you could tell he was not feeling good. I felt bad, I know the feeling of writing a final completely ill, and it sucks. I ended up calling my Mom after he left and talked to her for a few minutes, before showering and getting ready for my full day Lord of the Rings tour.

 I scheduled this tour with Wellington Rover Tours, and it was awesome. It was only me and one other girl, Charlotte, from England. My tour guide was even more of a Lord of the Rings dork than I was, and that honestly surprised me. Not only did he explain the Lord of the Rings locations extremely well, he also knew tons about Wellington! It was well worth the money I paid to go on it, and I am extremely happy that I fulfilled the geeky dream of mine.

 We started off by going up to Mt. Victoria and visiting 2 filming locations – one where Frodo tells the Hobbits to “get off the road” and another famous scene of the black rider standing on top of the hill in the mist, looking for the Hobbits as they made there way to Buckleberry Ferry in Fellowship of the Ring.

We then went to the Weta Cave – the major production company of Lord of the Rings. We toured around there – it was honestly like a giant gift shop with a mini movie theatre where you could see behind the scenes stuff for all of the movies that Weta has been a part of.

Our next stop was for lunch a small café not too far away from Peter Jackson’s house (Director of LOTR… and yes, we creeped his home.) where some of the cast would go for breakfast every day before shooting while in Wellington. I had “Pippin’s Pancakes” off the LOTR themed menu. We then made a brief stop on the beach in the area, and I found the most incredible abalone shell I’ve ever seen. Even though you’re not supposed to bring it home, I had full intentions of smuggling it back into Canada.

We then left and went out towards the Upper Hutt area, a small town just north of Wellington. Along the way, we saw the filming locations for Helm’s Deep and Minas Tirith, some scenes on the Great River, and where the village of Bree was filmed (which has now been developed and you can’t see any resemblance to the movie itself).

Our main stop was in Rivendell, and that was the highlight. Rivendell being my favorite place in Tolkien’s world, I was in heaven. I stood on the same rock where Orlando Bloom did all of his promo shots for Legolas (teenage crush, I did squee a bit) and saw many trees that I can recall from watching the Fellowship of the Ring so  many times. Our tour guide took some geeky pictures of us – including some of me with hobbit ears on and holding a replica of Frodo’s sword “Sting”. Let’s just say, those are for my eyes only…

In “Rivendell” we stopped for a brief “second breakfast” which consisted of tea and “Bilbo’s Baked Goods” and then returned to Wellington, where we stopped at the “orc tree” and the “Wizards Walk” – both scenes from FOTR.

Before our tour guide dropped me off in the middle of Wellington (more on that in a second) we went to the Embassy Theatre, where all three World Premières of the movie were held.

 After being dropped off no where near the Travelodge after the tour ended, I some how managed to meander through downtown Wellington and found my hotel. Brandon had beaten me back after he finished his exam (I blame me wandering for just over 45 minutes), we decided to go out for Hell’s Pizza – something I had heard him talk about a few times while we had been skyping in months previous. I didn’t want to go, as Brandon was clearly fevering to an extreme level, but after being convinced he was fine, we went.

 We didn’t stay out too late, and went back to the hotel room and watched the end of Elizabethtown before I decided that his fever was getting ridiculous, and I made him go to the Hospital. We took a cab, and ended up only being there for a few minutes. The triage nurse told him to just go and rest and take ibuprofen, and that his fever had clearly gone down from what I felt earlier, and that he would be okay. We went back to the hotel and went to sleep.

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New Zealand – Day Thirteen: June 10, 2010 – Hokitika/Greymouth to Christchurch to Wellington

Last day on the South Island. It seems so surreal – I’m really going to miss everything about it here.

 We woke up at 8 and drove to Greymouth and checked the condition of Arthur’s Pass – and it was open! We were happy, as this wasn’t adding miles and hours on to our trip today, but we knew that it could close at any point due to unsafe driving conditions due to weather, so we left right away.

 Arthur’s Pass is fairly desolate, you pass a few towns on your way, but mostly it is just a quick way to get from the West Coast to the East Coast of the South Island. Still as beautiful as every other part of New Zealand though. Brandon and I listened to music and talked about our trip the entire way, but nothing else super exciting happened. The road was intense at parts, and I can see why they would close it due to weather.

 Despite leaving early, we pulled into the suburbs of Christchurch with only a few hours to spare, so we had our van return time extended to 3pm instead of 2pm. We packed up the van in a decent amount of time and managed to eat lunch with about an hour to spare, so we decided to go the airport to see if we could check our bags super early (our flight wasn’t until 9pm that night). Unfortunately after waiting in a few long lines and not being able to find ANYTHING, we left, backpacks still in hand, and went to drop off our van.

Highlight of the day: NOT getting charged for the huge rock chip in the windshield. It happened earlier on in the trip as a campervan was passing us on one of the highways. Luckily for us, the guy with Escape Rentals was really unobservant when he compared the initial report of the van to the condition of the van when we returned it. The newer (worse) rock chip was passed off as an older one that was already on the initial report, and he signed us off with no charges, yay!

 We caught the local free bus to Cathedral Square in Christchurch, dropped off our backpacks at a hostel baggage room, and went and explored Christchurch for a bit.  We looked around Cathedral Square where Brandon ended up buying me a cute ring with abalone shell in it – I am in love with it! I toom some pictures, and then we went to the art gallery not to far from Cathedral Square. All of the exhibits were science based, so it was definitely my cup of tea!

We ended up wandering down the streets and finally stopping for dinner at the Tap Room, where we had some incredible seafood chowder for an appetizer, and then ordered Stone Grills for our main course – so delicious! I also tried Monteith’s for the first time and really enjoyed it. I normally don’t like beer, but it was probably the best tasting drink I had tried in a while (minus the vanilla latte from Te Anau, of course). We went and picked up our backpacks and headed off to the airport, to catch our flight to Wellington.

 We arrived in Wellington as scheduled (after I had a glorious nap on the plane) and took a cab to our hotel. Brandon has a biology final tomorrow, and I am going on a full day Lord of the Rings tour around the Wellington area so sleep is a must.

 I’m already missing the South Island, but I’m so thankful I have another 2.5 days left in this amazing country.

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New Zealand – Day Twelve: June 9, 2010 – Fox Glacier to Hokitika/Greymouth

Today, I jumped out of a perfectly good airplane.

I decided this trip to try everything – besides peeing in a washroom filled with spiders. So, on the list was skydiving, and what an experience it was.

Brandon and I slept in a bit, and then made our way to skydiving place for 11:15am. I was freaking out a bit as we pulled up to the small building and I saw the TINY plane that I would be jumping from 12,000ft up in the air in a few short minutes. The process was quick. I was suited up in a bright red jumpsuit covered in hooks and straps, and then was led out to meet my tandem skydiver who would be jumping with me. He explained to me (quickly) how to exit the plane and what I was to do when we landed. And before we knew it, Brandon and I were climbing into the small plane that barely fit the two of us, our two tandem jumpers and the pilot.

The entire way up I was flipping out, but managed to still get some pretty amazing pictures from the plane window. At 11,000 ft, my tandem jumper told me to put my Canon down and get ready. I think at this point I started to hold my breath out of pure fear, and then BAM. Door flies open. Were at 12,000ft and its time to go. Without thinking, I loop my legs out the door, my eyes taking in the ground 12,000ft below me, and I “banana” into my tandem guy and down we go. I think I was so quick on the reaction, because if I managed to pause and think “Why exactly are you jumping out of a perfectly good plane?” there was a possibility the rational side of me would have taken over and I wouldn’t have gone. Good thing I’m so spur of the moment.

I don’t think I had a coherent thought for the first couple of seconds while freefalling. To be honest, I think I screamed, or tried to, and then I got a mouthful of wind/air and I choked. It then sunk in what I was doing, and I started to wonder when exactly he was going to pull the chute.

And then he did. It was AMAZING. The adrenaline kicked in and I fully enjoyed parachuting down the ground. The guy I was with pulled the parachute so we would spiral for a bit, and then coast down. He was really good, and pointed out the mountains, the Tazman Sea, the glaciers, and where exactly our target landing spot was on the ground. And all the while I got to film it on my point and shoot! I looked up and saw Brandon in the distance floating a few hundred feet above me. SUCH A COOL EXPERIENCE.

When we landed (very smoothly may I add) a car was there waiting to take us back to the main place. I was so full of adrenaline I did a little dance after my tandem guy was unattached from me (that may have been awkward for him; I am glad that I waited!) and watched Brandon land a few feet from where I was standing. We went back to the depot, payed our dues and said goodbye. Brandon didn’t have a very good experience with his guy; apparently he didn’t talk much, which is kind of disappointing.

Overall, skydiving is awesome, and I would do it again in a heartbeat (only if I was in as cool of a location as Fox Glacier!).

 We drove back to Fox, and took a few pictures before heading out towards Hokitika – a town near Arthur’s Pass, which was the road we would take to make it back to Christchurch the following day. We stopped a Lake Matheson before we left, and took tons of pictures. The lake was like a mirror, and you had a perfect reflection of Mt. Cook on the lake. Unbelievable – I wish there were places at home as majestic as some of the places I have seen.

We eventually made it to the town of Franz Joseph, and fueled up at the gas station that has the plate boundary running right underneath it. I question the sanity of New Zealand Geologists and Engineers. One slip and that thing will be obliterated in fire and explosions. We drove up to the Franz Joseph Glacier itself along the way so that I could spot the plate boundary between the Indo-Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate. I found it about 2km away from the terminal face, did an internal happy dance and took a few pictures.

The drive to Hokitika/Greymouth was fairly uneventful, besides touching an electric fence and being electrocuted. But I’ve learned that this is a “day in the life of Kat Bowman” type of event, so I didn’t think too much of it.

We parked on the side of the road once again, our last night camping out on the South Island. Tomorrow we have to get up early to see if the Arthur’s Pass is open. This road often closes due to unsafe conditions, and if it is closed, we have to drive a different route to make it back to Christchurch by 2pm to return the van.

The thought that this trip is almost over has made me extremely sad.

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New Zealand – Day Eleven: June 8, 2010 – Fox Glacier

Today, I hiked a Glacier. For those that know me, you know that saying those five words alone brings me great joy and I could stop there and you could all probably feel the excitement and awesomeness that I felt for my full day on the Fox Glacier. But I couldn’t be so mean and deprive you of the details of how FREAKING awesome climbing a glacier is.

 In New Zealand, you cannot climb a glacier without a guide. Probably the best idea because they are death traps if you have no idea what you are doing. So, Brandon and I did the “Nimble Fox” glacier hike on Fox Glacier. It was an all day glacier hike with a guide for $150. Probably the best $150 I’ve spent in my life.

 We woke up nice and early and headed down to town and got our gear for the day, which consisted of a pair of hiking boots, cramp ons (the ice picks for your feet) along with many many layers for your body. I looked about 50lbs over weight – 2 hoodies, a long sleeve shirt, a teeshirt and my rainjacket/wind breaker, but I was warm and that’s all what mattered. After signing some waivers saying that if you die it’s not their fault, we got on a bus with our tour guide, Shaun, a couple from England who had been travelling the world for the past 2 months and a couple from South Africa who were working at a winery on the northern part of the South Island, and headed up towards the Glacier – about a 15 minute drive from the townsite.

 Our day started off with a 1km hike to the terminal face of the glacier, and then about a two hour hike up 700+ stairs along the side of the glacier in a wooded area to about ¼ of the way up the length of the glacier from the terminal face. If you aren’t in shape, I wouldn’t suggest doing this. The girl from England had to stop about 20 minutes in to the hike up the stairs due to pure exhaustion.

 Finally, after taking a few pictures along the way, we made it on to the glacier. The guides’ responsibility is to carve steps into the ice so that people can easily walk along the glacier. Even with the giant ice picks strapped onto our boots, the stairs were still somewhat difficult to navigate at first, but after a while I finally got the hang of it, and got over my fear of falling.

 Shaun was extremely knowledgeable about the glacier, the geology of the area, and pretty much anything you wanted to know about anything. He was funny, and definitely made the day even more enjoyable.

 We made our way down the glacier, back towards the terminal front. Shaun stood over the giant crevasses and filled in Moulins (holes in the ice made by water erosion. These things usually are about the size of a human, so when you slide down, you get stuck. And then when you breathe out, your body becomes compressed within the ice, and you suffocate and die.) as we made our way down the glacial front so that none of us would be injured. We stopped for a quick lunch and enjoyed the few minutes of sunshine we had that day before heading further down. We hit a point on the glacier that I thought to myself was like an ice playground. Tunnels and holes in the ice that were just big enough for everyone in the group to go and play in.

 We then made our way up to the highest point of the hike on the glacier (not anywhere near the origin, which was miles up from where we were) and had amazing views of the whole area. We took a few pictures, climbed into another ice tunnel, and then headed back down towards the bus to take us back to the townsite.

 After spending from around 10am to just after 5pm on a glacier, Brandon and I ate dinner and then crashed pretty early for the night.

 In summary: Climbing a glacier is the coolest thing I’ve ever done. Do it if you have the chance. It’s exhilarating and beautiful all at the same time.

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New Zealand – Day Ten: June 7, 2010 – Queenstown to Fox Glacier

Happy Birthday to the Queen! Today is a national holiday in New Zealand. I also found it quite awesome that we were in Queenstown on the Queen’s birthday.  Surprisingly, a few places are still open around Queenstown, so Brandon and I decided to ditch the eggs for breakfast and go out to a restaurant for breakfast for the first time all trip.

 We ended up at Bob’s Weigh, which reminded me a lot of Nellie’s at home. I ended up with French toast on artesian bread, with fresh berries and shot glass of syrup, and Brandon had an omelet. Our waiter definitely checked out Brandon, and openly made “eyes” at him while we were ordering. I wasn’t quite sure how to react… I laughed it off, and teased Brandon for a few hours afterwards.

 We ended up wandering around Queenstown again, and it was super fun, despite the rain. It is very touristy – tons of giftshops and guided boat tours of the area, but there is something about the city that is almost comforting. It just is a happy place, and I would love to come back another winter and ski in the area. The Remarkables would probably put the Rockies to shame, and I’d probably end up taking up permanent residence just for the fresh powder.

 We left around noon and headed out towards Wanaka. The road to Wanaka was incredibly unnerving – switchback road with 10+ inches of snow piled up. It was a sight to see, and made me wonder if Calgary drivers could concour such a feat. (Probably not, they can’t drive 30 on a cleared road without causing traffic issues.)

 Wanaka was fairly small, and didn’t have much in it. The lake was gorgeous, and the skies were clearing up a bit, so you could see more of the Remarkables Mountain Range than you could in the last few days. We didn’t end up staying long, just wandered up the main street to a grocery store to get a loaf of bread, and then were back on the road.

 The drive to Fox Glacier was very long, but we did manage to see an incredible sunset along the way. Just past Haast, there is an extremely long one lane bridge (kind of intimidating, as it has passing bays just in case you didn’t see the people coming from the other side) and we pulled over just after it, cause the sky was already turning a vivid orange. We made our way down to the banks of the Haast river, and stood out there taking pictures for over 30 minutes. I think I took over 200 pictures of the sunset alone – it was incredible. Even more incredible than the one in Te Anau a few days previous, and I didn’t think anything could beat that.

 Just before we were about to leave, two mini tornadoes (or water spouts) came whipping down towards us from upstream. One narrowly missed me (I jumped out of the way, but ended up getting splashed with a mist from the wind) and the other one went right beside Brandon while he was on a small island just off shore from the river. I had never experienced anything like it. After a “What the hell was that?!” session, we decided to head back onto the road.

 We made it to Fox later in the evening, and decided to once again sleep on the side of the road, after going into the townsite to use the bathroom. We pulled over at a public toilet outside, and I was faced with a fear I had not yet really experienced in New Zealand: Spiders. And LOTS of them, all over the walls and ceilings of this bathroom. I refused, and after being made fun of slightly by Brandon, I went into a bar just across the road and explained my fear to them, and used their (spider free) washroom instead. It was terrifying.

 Tomorrow: I hike a glacier. My inner geologist is screaming in excitement right now.

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New Zealand – Day Nine: June 6, 2010 – Around Queenstown

Today ended up being a very chill day, and we had the rain to thank (hate?) for that.

 We started the day driving back down into Queenstown from our awesome side-of-the-road camping spot to go and shower at one of the Hostels. The man at the desk the previous night had told us that we could shower at their facilities for $5, and to just come by in the morning. The woman at the desk (who looked like she had done cocaine a few times, just going to throw that out there) then told us no when we arrived in the morning. So, slightly upset, we made our way to a recreation facility and showered there. It’s amazing; I’ve never appreciated showering so much in my life.

 We ended up sitting in the van for a few hours before heading out to see the small towns around Queenstown.

 Our first stop was at the Twelve Mile Delta, where they shot some scenes of Ithilien in Lord of the Rings. Unfortunately, the intense downpour and the copious amount of mud prevented us from really getting the most out of the area, so I ended up napping while Brandon studied for his biology exam. We cooked lunch, and then headed out towards Kinloch.

 Kinloch, I would have imagined, would have been really pretty, but the intense fog over the lake prevented me from seeing pretty much anything. We wandered around for a few minutes, taking pictures that are sure not to turn out, before deciding to head out to Paradise.

 The drive to Paradise from Kinloch was windy, wet, and in parts completely snow covered. We decided to stop before making it all the way there as road conditions were not improving and we were far in the middle of no where (as we soon would discover.) I took a few pictures before we turned around – we were in the middle of the forest where they filmed all the scenes for Lothlorien in Lord of the Rings (I was geeking out hardcore this day, and loving every second of it.).

 We started heading back towards Queenstown, and Brandon pulled over close to a bridge to take a few pictures.

 Mistake right there. The grass was extremely wet and slippery, which in turn, made our van get stuck, and we ended up sliding down into the ditch. Did I mention we were in the middle of no where, with no cell phone reception? We had already made up our mind to spend the night and just deal with getting out in the morning, and then Frodo saved us.

 A Lord of the Rings tour group drove by, and they stopped after seeing us helpless on the side of the road. The group leader (Who I have named Frodo, for his license plate said so) was compassionate enough to tie a rope to our bumper and pull us out, even though it was against his company’s policy. His head was telling him no, but his heart told him yes. After many thanks from Brandon and myself, we followed him back towards Queenstown. I’ve also decided that off-roading in a campervan is not the best idea, and the next time Brandon and I decide to try such things, we’ll rent a range rover.

 We made our way back to Queenstown (eventually!) and went to Fergburger again. Brandon is a champ and stomached another one, I was still full from the night previous. We parked in the same place as the previous night, and hoped for better weather tomorrow for our last half day in Queenstown before venturing out towards the glaciers on the west coast.

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